Parents should never leave children alone in a car

It was clear by the way she pulled out of the parking lot that she was in a hurry. She jumped into her van and rather than back out of the parking place she squeezed through a space barely large enough for her car. But what really spoke to me about this 20-something woman was the fact that she left her toddler in the back seat while she ran in to get a couple of items at the grocery store.

I noticed him when I pulled into my parking place. He was fiddling with his seat belt trying to get out of his car seat. No one else was in the car, and then out of nowhere comes his mother who jumps into the car and pulls away.

I had to control my desire to get out of my vehicle and approach her about the risk she had just taken with her little child. But she was gone before I could even decide what to do. It was not a hot day so the little boy was not in danger of suffocating as has been known to happen when a forgetful and preoccupied parent leaves a child in the car. But anyone could have approached that car. Perhaps it was locked, who knows.

No one is in that much of a hurry that a child can’t be lifted out of a car and taken into a store. Yes, it is faster to go alone and yes, it might feel like a nuisance … but this is a toddler … a precious child.

Every summer we read about children who die of hyperthermia after being left in vehicles. In 2008, there were 42 children who died in hot cars. Since 1998, there have been 415 such deaths. How sad. Studies show that these incidents can occur on days with relatively mild (i.e. 70 degrees) temperatures and that vehicles can reach life-threatening temperatures very rapidly. If doors are locked, which they probably are in most cases, it makes it very difficult to rescue a child or pet should someone see this tragic situation occur.

Cracking windows a few inches is all but useless. Try it. Sit in your car on a day when the temperature is 70 or 80 degrees and roll the windows down a couple of inches. See how long it is before you want to open the doors and get out of that car.

Now we know parents are loving and caring people. But they are also preoccupied, overwhelmed and tired people. In some instances these parents are just not thinking.

What was this mother thinking when she left her toddler sitting in a car in a public parking lot where anyone could have attempted to take the child? How does the child feel being left alone in a car? And if it were hot, what then?

I see it all the time when it comes to dogs. If I see a dog in a car on a hot day, I put a card under the wiper hoping to educate the driver. The card tells the driver about how hot a car can get when it is just 70 degrees outside, with windows open a bit.

Summer is on its way. It is time to be extra careful about leaving children and pets in cars because of the heat. But in no instance should a child ever be left unattended in a car in any temperature, anywhere.

Mary Friedel-Hunt, freelance writer, publisher and a licensed clinical social worker, has been a psychotherapist for 32 years. Her column runs weekly in Faith & Values.